Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump

Not Following the Logic

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The whole flap over pro football players kneeling during the national anthem has gone to a new level this week. Let’s sort it out.

Thumbing Your Nose

Kneeling during the national anthem is thumbing your nose at the entire country. It is a posture, an affectation. People who do it are poseurs. Where else could they go to make this kind of money doing what they do?

A football player does not get to tell us how to interpret his disrespect to the nation. Yes, I am talking to you, Richard Sherman. Kneeling during the national anthem is an act of disrespect to the entire country, including most of us who have no influence over how the criminal justice system treats black people in the inner city. Sherman is too intelligent not to know that.

Having a Complaint

Do black people have a complaint regarding the way they are treated by the criminal justice system? Hell, yes. Many people, not just black people, have a legitimate beef. The shenanigans in Ferguson, Missouri, for example, should offend every voter in this country. Municipalities and counties using law enforcement as a revenue center should offend every voter in this country.

The number of persons under correctional supervision (in prison, on probation or on parole) is appalling. According to a 2012 article by Adam Gopnik, there were more black men under correctional supervision at that time than there were in slavery in 1850; the total population of America that is under correctional supervision was over six million and growing. Contrary to popular lore, many of the people in prison are there for drug offenses or offenses against “public order”. Since black people are in prison at a disproportionately higher rate than Americans in general, yes, there is a genuine issue.

Taking Action

So what should a politically aware black football player do? How about taking some of that large NFL salary and putting it to work in community action? How about sponsoring court appeals on behalf of people who are being exploited by municipalities? Put your money where your mouth is.

White House Invitations

Back in 2011, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup and were invited to the White House. Goalie Tim Thomas declined the invitation. This writer maintained that Tim Thomas had no business declining the invitation.  I disagree. Similarly, Stephon Curry has every right to decline an invitation to the White House, given that he disagrees with the politics of the President.

The President is the Chief Executive, the Head of State and a high profile political figure. If a person disagrees vehemently with the political viewpoint of the President, by all means, do not accept his invitation to the White House.

Donald Trump’s Statements

Yes, Donald Trump made inflammatory and provocative statements on this subject. In other news, Lindy made it!

Really, who reasonably expected that, if this issue made it to Trump’s radar at all, he would make a nuanced, empathetic statement that would uphold respect for the nation as a whole while recognizing the real problems that people have encountered at the hands of governments? Did anyone really think Trump would call for national reflection on the issues that black athletes are raising while asserting that the nation deserves respect even if specific people in positions of authority have abused their power?

And there was every reason to expect Trump to weigh in on this issue. It is red meat to his base, many of whom a) love America and b) watch football. Trump has demonstrated that he has a laser focus on his core constituency, his political “investors”.

Trump’s statements are off the table for purposes of this discussion. There is nothing new here. The themes have not changed at all during the year. There really is not anything else to say.

Donald Trump is my President, in that he was duly elected through the recognized Electoral College process, just like Barack Obama was. Trump does not represent my viewpoint, and I would have wanted a more nuanced response. However, I recognize that Trump doesn’t do nuance. There is no point in flogging this horse anymore. He is what he is, and he is not going to change.

 

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Written by srojak

September 24, 2017 at 11:22 pm

Did Donald Trump Obstruct Justice?

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We had a fun argument earlier this week on CNN between Jeffrey Toobin and Alan Dershowitz over whether or not Donald Trump obstructed justice by his conduct toward former FBI director James Comey. You can see it here (4:43).

Toobin claimed that Trump obstructed justice:

  • That the alleged request by Trump to Comey to lay off investigating former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn would have constituted obstruction of justice;
  • That Trump’s firing of Comey was obstruction of justice.

Dershowitz disagreed. He argued that Trump had the constitutional options to order Comey directly to cease investigating Flynn or even to grant Flynn an executive pardon. Dershowitz cited the example of Caspar Weinberger, who had served as Secretary of Defense for Ronald Reagan and who had been indicted by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh in 1992, accusing Weinberger of perjury and obstruction of justice during the Iran-Contra Affair. President George H. W. Bush pardoned Weinberger before these charges could be tried.

Dershowitz did not argue that Trump should get a free pass, just that his behavior was within his authority under the Constitution and did not constitute a crime. During the interview, Dershowitz said, “Impeachment is political. There is no judicial review of impeachment. You can impeach a president for jaywalking.”

I have to agree with Dershowitz, not just because of his reputation as a constitutional law scholar. Where does the FBI appear on the constitutional org chart? It is within the Justice Department, part of the Executive branch. The FBI is not an independent agency — does anybody really want it to be? (Anybody remember J. Edgar Hoover?)

As such, the FBI director serves at the pleasure of the president, who has the constitutional authority to dismiss the director for any reason, or no reason at all. This is not to say that there will be no political consequences for the president. Lyndon Johnson wanted to dismiss Hoover, but drew back from the political consequences [see Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest, p. 529]. Trump went ahead and fired Comey, and he can live with the political consequences of having done so.

Abuse of political power is a perfectly good reason to impeach a president. Congress also has less extreme options at its disposal, such as cutting funding for the president’s programs and either refusing or delaying consideration of the president’s legislative agenda.

Criminalizing political behavior you don’t like is a bad road to go down. It would represent another step toward being a banana republic with no bananas.

In this case, it is political spinelessness that causes people to seek some artificial objective standard — never mind that it is not applicable. If you don’t like the man’s politics, come out and say so. Seek political means to counteract them.

And if you’re in journalism, and you are concerned that you can’t object to someone’s politics and still appear unbiased, you’re absolutely right. You have to choose your course and live with the consequences no less than a politician has to.

Written by srojak

June 10, 2017 at 3:06 pm

Flexible Or Unprincipled?

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There are a lot of questions out there right now. I have them also. Answers are not readily forthcoming, but can we refine the questions?

Who Put the Syrian Kids on Donald Trump’s Milk Carton?

Was the missile strike on Syria on 7 April an impulsive and emotional response to video evidence of suffering children? Assembling the available evidence since the 2016 campaign, it sure looks that way. But even if this is true, what can we take away from it?

It is highly unlikely that a sudden whim from the President provoked top-down assessment of an option to use force that had not be previously considered. More probably, a course of action involving missile strikes on Syrian government assets was already on the table, and the images of children suffering the effects of sarin broke through to executive attention and resulted in this course of action being considered where it wasn’t before.

This would indicate that there will be other opportunities for a person with an agenda and the right kind of supporting materials to influence executive policy in both foreign and domestic situations.

Where Is the Boundary between Flexible and Unprincipled?

The entire Trump presidency puts this question to the nation, along with related questions, such as, “Can a policy you disagree with ever be principled?”

Certainly, Trump has given every indication of having a very limited set of operating principles. We have every reason to believe that, if someone were to take a shot at him today with a rifle, by this evening he would have a new-found interest in gun control. Everything that had been said during the campaign about Second Amendment rights would be, in the immortal words of Ron Ziegler, rendered inoperative.

However, this is nothing new. We have more antecedents than just the Nixon Administration to recall in order to gain perspective. There are obvious similarities between Trump and FDR; I mentioned these a year ago. FDR was fully capable of meeting with six people, all of whom had mutually incompatible agendas, and have each of the six walk away from the meeting fully believing that, “Roosevelt agrees with me completely.” Then FDR would follow a seventh course, or perhaps do nothing.

Nevertheless, FDR was popular with the country. You can see the newsreels of people in the street crying when he died in April, 1945. Whatever he really believed, FDR conveyed the belief that the troubles of the people in the nation really mattered to him. The principles he publicly stood for were to try anything to get out of the Depression; it just happened that anything always led to an expansion in the role of the federal government.

The principles we have seen from Trump are counterpunching, strength and bellicosity. It would be helpful if we saw more of these principles at work representing the nation, rather than in the service of Donald Trump the person. This still would not satisfy those people who don’t want America to be about counterpunching, strength and bellicosity, but it would be a step in the right direction.

I should also point out that we’ve tried other approaches. The Obama Administration had entirely consistent and predictable responses to atrocities in Syria: Do nothing. These did not lead to a satisfactory outcome.

In a position of leadership, refusal to divulge principles is not an option. People will not suspend judgment because you withhold information. They will attempt to fill in the blanks themselves, deducing your principles from the available information. It won’t do to complain about the inferences people draw from your behavior after having refused to put your own word out.

Can Congress Stop Airlines from Overbooking?

Why not? Isn’t that fraud? The airline is representing it has seats available that it doesn’t really have.

I understand that the airlines will, in turn, claim to be subject to traveler games with multiple reservations and cancellations. There is a risk involved, where the travelers don’t want to get bumped and the airlines don’t want to fly empty seats around.

When you run a business, you bear business risk. We don’t let dry cleaners evade their negligence by stamping Not responsible for losses due to negligence on the dry cleaning tickets. They can try it, but it won’t hold up in court. Similarly, it is bad public policy to let the airlines dump the risk of matching capacity to demand on the consumers.

Are We Overestimating the Ability of China to Help with North Korea?

This question was raised on the BBC’s Dateline London show this week. The idea behind the question is that the PRC may not be able to influence North Korea as much as others in the world believe possible.

At the same time, people are calling for a diplomatic solution to the problem posed by North Korea’s nuclear aspirations. Even the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, has warned of a “head-on collision” between the US and North Korea. However, what a diplomatic solution would look like is unclear. North Korea expelled outside inspectors in 2003, formally withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. What can anyone reasonably offer Kim Jong Un in exchange for permanently scrapping his nuclear program?

Reviewing North Korea’s nuclear history reveals there has been little to no success in halting the country’s progress in its nuclear program. However, another detail that has not been addressed is hidden in the history: North Korea is unreliable and cannot be trusted. Every single deal that has been reached in the past has been broken by North Korea. With this in mind, North Korea’s demands for  recognition as a nuclear power and its promises to not use nuclear weapons recklessly or its ending programs in exchange for the United States and South Korea halting joint military exercises must be met with suspicion. This raises the question, how do you negotiate or make a deal with an actor you cannot trust?
— Kevin Princic, “North Korea: Navigating the ‘Land of Lousy Options'”, 20 Jan 2016 [http://blogs.shu.edu/diplomacy/2016/01/north-korea-navigating-the-land-of-lousy-options/]

China is definitely worth engaging, as China is North Korea’s windpipe. Anything China can do is a contribution. Nevertheless, the options are all rather bad at this point.

Is Kemalism Finished in Turkey?

General Mustafa Kemal took control of a national assembly that opposed the concessions required by the Allies at the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres. He defeated the Allied forces, forcing a revised settlement at the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. In 1924, Kemal abolished the Caliphate and Turkey became a one-party republic. He proclaimed a program called the Six Arrows:

  1. Republicanism;
  2. Populism, here focusing on transfer of political power from aristocrats and tribal leaders to citizens;
  3. Nationalism,
  4. Secularism, separating national law from Islamic law and enforcing only the former;
  5. Statism;
  6. Modernization.

As an instance of both populism and modernization, Kemal required Turks to have last names. He changed his name from Mustafa Kemal to Kemal Atatürk (Father of the Turks). He invited westerners including John Dewey to advise the government on how to achieve modernization.

The referendum being held today asks the country whether the executive of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should be granted constitutional changes bringing all state bureaucracy under his control. The office of prime minister would be abolished and the president would have greater powers to issue decrees and dissolve parliament. He would also have greater powers over the judiciary.

As of this writing, with over 95% of the votes counted, the BBC reports that Yes votes are leading 51.4% to 48.6% for No.

Erdoğan has sought to reverse the secularism of Kemal while expanding on nationalism and statism. He has taken a hard line with separatist Kurds. In 2016, an attempted coup d’état of uncertain origin broke out in Turkey which was defeated. The Erdoğan government claims that the coup was masterminded by a former ally, Fethullah Gülen, now living in exile in Pennsylvania.

What becomes of Kemalism? There were some roots of authoritarianism in Kemalism; all evidence indicates that Erdoğan is returning to at least this level of authoritarianism. At the same time, he always has been more Islamist than Kemalism could tolerate. Early in his life, he was jailed and banned from political office for expressing Islamist political views. This ban was annulled by his allies in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 after winning a national election victory.

 

Interviewing Kellyanne Conway

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This video (6:31 long) from Vox was brought to my attention. It raises a number of interesting questions. Laid over with questions about Vox itself and the media in general, we have even more questions. It is a very layered story, and worth some time to dig through the various layers.

Let’s start with the subject at hand, then open the lens to the bigger picture.

Being a Representative

Conway’s role on these shows is to represent the administration. Within a circumscribed, forest-for-the-trees perspective of the role (more on that later), I think she does an outstanding job. She is determined and relentless. When she has a strong hand, she plays it; when she has a weak hand, she bluffs like crazy.

She knows that many of her interviewers want to pin her down. They want to face her. They want to force her to fold, to make concessions. She has no intention of doing that. It’s a test of wills.

I have some experience in representing myself; I represented a software company in sales efforts. Conway is a walking illustration of the very ethos of a successful software sales representative: “They promised you beachfront? You don’t want beachfront. Swampland is the future!”

Being Donald Trump’s Representative

Overlaid on top of this is the fact that she is representing the administration headed by President Trump. I don’t think I am being unfair to Trump by saying that this is no ordinary presidential administration. He consistently promised something out of the ordinary on his campaign, and he is delivering in abundance.

Given the nature of Donald Trump, the person, there are going to be some striking challenges in being his representative. For openers, he pops off at the mouth — or the tweet — much more than the typical organizational leader. Then his representatives have to go forward and try to control the damage.

I believe that Trump did not further his own cause by calling Judge James Robart a “so-called judge”, but he did. I believe that a more nuanced approach to the limitations of the press would have been preferable to calling them “The enemy of the American people.” But Trump doesn’t do nuance. We’ve had years to figure this out. The man is, as of this writing, 70 years old; he’s set in his ways.

So you, the representative, get the task of appearing in front of the press, who are howling like a scalded dog after having been called the enemy of the American people. You can’t unsay his remarks. You can’t disown them. You can’t cut and run. How are you going to navigate this?

So, yeah, Conway “reinvents Trump’s positions into more defensible versions of themselves.” How else would she keep her head above water? Jeff Lord has been doing the same thing as a Trump flack on CNN for the entire 2016 campaign. When Trump made totally outrageous, foot-in-mouth statements that would appear indefensible, Lord simply replaced them with positions from an idealized, Trump-like candidate that existed in his own imagination. What would you do on camera in front of a national audience? Concede the point? That’s not what you’re there for.

Some Perspective on Representatives

None of this is new; it’s just a matter of degree. The British series Yes, Prime Minister contained an episode titled “Official Secrets“, which first aired in 1987. Here is a link to the video. If you’re pressed for time, skip forward to about the 23:00 mark.

Bernard, what made you think that, just because someone was asking you questions, you had to answer them?
— James Hacker, “Official Secrets”

Further on, Hacker instructs Bernard in how to handle difficult questions. He has eight ways to defect questions. The net of his advice is:

If you have nothing to say, say nothing. Better still, have something to say and say it, no matter what they ask. Pay no attention to the question; make your own statement. If they ask the question again, you just say, “That’s not the question” or “I think the more important question is …” Then you make another statement of your own.
— James Hacker, “Official Secrets”

As a representative, you don’t have the option of having nothing to say. So you have to have something to say and force your will to prevail over the will of your questioners. Conway is very good at this.

So Why Invite Her?

The host of the Vox piece says at the end:

Just remember, she’s doing her job. It’s the news shows that keep booking her that are letting you down.
— Carlos Maza

Why do they bring her on? Part of it is the unwritten co-dependency story of how Trump got to be President in the first place. The news networks have 1,440 minutes a day to fill, 365 days a year. They’re crazy for content. They don’t know what else to do.

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
— Oscar Wilde

Trump has exploited this dependency mercilessly for his entire campaign. By saying and tweeting outrageous things, he dominated his opponents through airtime. While career politicians were cautious and scripted, Trump was spontaneous and outrageous. The received wisdom was that you couldn’t win an election doing that. Evidently, the received wisdom was wrong.

No, having flacks on a news show to evade questions is not helpful to us as citizens. It never was. The extremes of this administration just throw the issue into bright relief. Neither was having teams of opposing flacks to shout at one another and talk over one another during the 2016 campaign. Evidently, it is all the cable channels can think of fill time.

Journalists seem to think that the reporting of peoples’ opinions constitutes reporting facts. It may be a fact that the person you’re interviewing has that opinion, but it’s still an opinion. Postmodern journalism happened long before Donald Trump threw his cap in the ring.

Consider a real issue: last year, there was an announced change in Department of Labor policy that was later blocked by a federal court injunction. How much of this issue did you hear on cable news? How much did you read about it in your favorite print outlet?

Vox

The people at Vox are good at identifying behavior from Conway when it comes from people they don’t like, such as Conway. But do not lose sight of the fact that they have their own viewpoint to push — everybody does.

Some further reading:

What is Truth?

Most of us accept something called the Correspondence Theory of Truth. Simply put, if you accept this theory, than in order for a statement to be true, it has to correspond in some meaningful way to objective reality. This requires acceptance of a bundle of premises:

  1. There is an objective reality;
  2. We can know it;
  3. We can all obtained a shared common knowledge of it;
  4. We can take a statement and measure the correspondence with that shared common knowledge of reality, and therefore the truthfulness of that statement.

A full treatment of these implications is going to have to wait for another post, because this is a subject in itself.

It is clear to me, from his conduct, that Donald Trump does not subscribe to this theory. His truth is more pragmatic in nature: what is useful to me right now? This may seem shocking and even immoral, but it has an intellectual lineage going back to William James and Charles Sanders Pierce:

‘The true’, to put it very briefly, is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as ‘the right’ is only the expedient in the way of our behaving. Expedient in almost any fashion; and expedient in the long run and on the whole, of course; for what meets expediently all the experience in sight won’t necessarily meet all farther experiences equally satisfactorily.
— William James, Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, Lecture VI (1907)

So something can be true today, because it is expedient, and then untrue tomorrow, because it is no longer expedient.

I direct the interested reader to the entry from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Pragmatism for further discussion.

It is not necessary for Donald Trump to have read William James for him to think in this way. The notion has been rattling around out there for over a hundred years.

The question of truth introduces a professional challenge to the journalist: what are you reporting? The truth or someone’s truth?

For the journalist who does accept the Correspondence Theory of Truth, it presents also a personal ethical challenge: what do you do about this? Do the standards of journalism require you to refrain from inserting your own beliefs, or do you have an ethical responsibility upon to advocate your viewpoint as to the nature of truth?

It is clear that many of the people trying to get “the truth” out of Conway and those like her are not formally aware of these issues. They sense something is not quite right, but I don’t think they could articulate what the problem is.

 

 

Written by srojak

February 20, 2017 at 12:45 pm

Not My President

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This week, Georgia Democratic Congressman John Lewis gave an interview where he stated he does not sees Donald Trump is a “legitimate president.” Lewis gave as his reasons the alleged Russian hacking during the campaign, saying this “helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.” Lewis went on to claim a “conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others” to tamper with the election, but did not identify who the others were.

To the surprise of no one, Trump responded with a series of two tweets criticizing Lewis. These tweets themselves became subjects of further reporting and kept the story hot. Over the past week I have read an entire spectrum of opinions over what Lewis said and how Trump responded. Here are my conclusions.

Political Legitimacy

John Lewis absolutely does have the moral right to reject the political legitimacy of Donald Trump. He has this right not because he is a congressman or a civil rights legend, but because he is a citizen. As long as we believe it to be true that the power of the government derives from the consent of the governed, the governed have the moral right to withhold that consent. The citizen can refuse to consent to specific actions or to the presence of specific office holders.

However, if rejection of political legitimacy is serious — if it is more than just a posture for effect — then it is an extreme position. Like going to war, a person who rejects the political legitimacy of an elected official must have strong reasons and, if he goes public with his rejection, he is obligated to articulate those reasons. If you are going to influence others to accept your position, there are going to be consequences for you and consequences for them.

Not liking the outcome of an election is not a valid reason to withhold legitimacy from the winner. It is a repudiation of the election process. Yes, the parade of claims that Barack Obama was not a citizen by birth was a lame attempt to do exactly this: to withhold legitimacy because people did not like the result of an election.

Yes, there is a lot to dislike about Donald Trump. If you want to say that he’s not your president, you have that right. But “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires” that you should have good reasons, reasons that are centered on actions.

If you want to refuse him legitimacy because he has never conveyed a set of principles other than his own self-enlargement that he really stands for, I can see your way to that. But I can’t go with simply not being willing to accept that your candidate lost. Back in the spring, my candidate lost and I got over it.

Instead of blaming the Russians, FBI Director James Comey and whoever else is handy, the Democrats would be best served by examining why their program and their candidate did not go over. Yes, I am sure it is painful trying to comprehend losing an election to this man. The truth hurts.

Is the System Rigged?

You could claim that Donald Trump invited this back in the general election campaign, when he claimed that the election would be rigged if he lost.

Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naïve!
— Donald Trump tweet during October 2016, reported by Business Insider.

So now let his intemperate words come back to bite him. Why shouldn’t his opponents also claim the system is rigged because they didn’t get the result that they want? I mean, other than the fact that he’s Donald Trump and they’re not?

Maybe this is what it is going to take to restore sanity; rash, ill-conceived actions have to have consequences.

The Great (Over)Communicator

Did Trump make a tactical error responding to Lewis and perpetuating the story? Did he make a tactical error attacking Khizr Khan for his speech at the Democratic Convention? Did he make a tactical error for his statements about Mexican immigrants in June 2015? The talking heads pontificate out how counterproductive his behavior is. I have yet to see actual negative consequences. Instead, he played the media like a calliope and obtained free publicity.

Donald Trump has successfully flouted decades of political wisdom.

Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.
— Mark Twain

Politics is human beings; it’s addition rather than subtraction.
— Donald Rumsfeld

Using the orthodox wisdom, I thought Trump would flame out early in the primary season. I was wrong. I am not interested in continuing to repeat the same mistakes.

What is there to learn from this experience? The first thing to learn is the fact that nobody knows how long these tactics are going to work. Nobody knows whether this is a seasonal change or a fundamental change. The talking heads on television say that you can’t govern this way. But they also said you can’t win a campaign this way, and that assertion did not hold up.

Written by srojak

January 15, 2017 at 12:08 pm

The Winter of Our Discontent

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Wouldn’t it be great if choices in life were completely obvious? If you were presented with clear, highly differentiated alternatives that were so obvious that the right choice might as well be marked with a big neon arrow?

That rarely happens. Sometimes you have to choose between unclear or even unattractive alternatives. The 2016 presidential election is such a situation.

It is always good, in such situations, to seek to expand your option space. The two-item menu is usually presented by people who have their own agendas, which warrant a healthy skepticism.

It is in this light that I want to consider some recent articles that offer to tell us what we must do.

The Clinton Partisans

First, a pair of pieces from the New York Times.

That first debate seems to have helped Hillary Clinton move ahead of Donald Trump in the polls. However, I know that many of you are asking yourselves:Why is this even a question?
— Gail Collins, “How Could Anyone Vote for Trump?” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/01/opinion/how-could-anyone-vote-for-trump.html), 30 Sep 2016.

I will take up the question of how anyone could vote for Trump later on. However, have no illusions that Collins has written a reflective article examining legitimate reasons for dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton. There simply aren’t any. Collins is an intellectual bully. Not only are people who want to vote for Trump morally defective; so are people who want to vote for Gary Johnson, since he failed her geography test.

When I am confronted by the “not voting” or “protest voting” crowd, their argument often boils down to one of principle: They can’t possibly vote for Trump or Clinton because both are flawed in their own ways.

I know immediately that they have bought into the false equivalency nonsense, and additionally are conflating the casting of a ballot with an endorsement of a candidate’s shortcomings.
— Charles Blow, “The Folly of the Protest Vote” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/opinion/the-folly-of-the-protest-vote.html), 22 Sep 2016.

But if the candidate’s shortcomings are not relevant, what are we voting on? Is it possible that the Trumpkins have a point? Oops, was that my outside voice?

The context of Charles Blow’s remarks are racial issues, so he already has a starting point in identity politics. Blow has staked out his ground rather clearly:

You can’t care about this issue and risk the ascendance of a man who last week was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, a group that in its questionnaire to candidates claims: “Fringe organizations have been given a platform by the media to convey the message that police officers are a ‘militarized’ enemy and it is time to attack that enemy.” The questionnaire goes further: “There is a very real and very deliberate campaign to terrorize our nation’s law enforcement officers, and no one has come to our defense.” This, of course, is cop fantasy, but this group is the nation’s largest police union, representing some 330,000 officers.

Really? Cop fantasy? The Dallas police shootings were on 7 July. The Baton Rouge police shootings were on 17 July. Even the New York Times covered them. Is Blow really not aware?

Or is this the standard identity politics song, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen? Nobody has suffered injustice the way my group has suffered injustice. And, yes, I’ll say it: poor people generally, and Blacks in particular, suffer injustice at the hands of some police, courts and municipalities. But Blow wants to overcome collective treatment of individuals who are black by collective treatment of individuals who are police. Good luck with that.

And, yes, Charles, thanks for reminding me:

There is another truth: That person will appoint someone to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court (assuming that the Senate doesn’t find religion and move on Merrick Garland before the new president takes office) and that person will also appoint federal judges to fill the 88 district court and court of appeals vacancies that now exist (there are 51 nominees pending for these seats).

Which is another reason not to want to vote for Hillary Clinton.

I will also discuss the question of equivalency between Trump and Clinton further on. But there is one more point to be made about the progressives and their following:

His convention was called “one of the worst ever.” Chris Matthews deemed him “dangerous” and “scary,” Ellen DeGeneres said “If you’re a woman, you should be very, very scared.” His opponent ran an ad against him portraying him as uniquely dangerous for women. “I’ve never felt this way before, but it’s a scary time to be a woman,” said a woman in the ad.

He was frequently called a “bully,” “anti-immigrant,” “racist,” “stupid,” and “unfit” to be president.

I’m referring, obviously, to the terrifying Mitt Romney.
— Karol Markowicz, “How Paul Krugman Made Donald Trump Possible” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/05/how-paul-krugman-made-donald-trump-possible.html), The Daily Beast, 5 Aug 2016.

Progressives have demonstrated that they can intimidate moderate opponents by calling them extremists. Having done so, they have helped cleared the way for genuine extremists who really are the threats that progressives like to holler about. Are you happy now?

The Trump Following

I am going to consider one of the more unique opinion pieces in support of Donald Trump.

A Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances. To ordinary conservative ears, this sounds histrionic.
— Publius Decius Mus, “The Flight 93 Election” (http://www.claremont.org/crb/basicpage/the-flight-93-election/), Claremont Review of Books, 5 Sept 2016.

Yeah, I have rather ordinary conservative ears, and that sure sounds histrionic to me. It also sounds fairly representative of the argument I have heard from various Trumpkins. Let’s examine.

The argument in this article is founded on some rather substantial assertions. What interested me is the fact that the author progressed from these assertions in a very logical manner to his conclusion. The assertions are:

  • Nativism: the author objects foursquare to immigration, and maintains that Tom Tancredo got it right on immigration. I don’t accept nativism, so we’re off to a bad start.
  • Opposition to Free Trade: it is clear that the transition to free trade has been very badly managed, splitting the risk from the reward and dumping the former on those who are least able to manage it. Nevertheless, if you fully costed any practical program of reversing globalization, would you have any substantial political support for that? Yeah, I know — you can say that about almost any political program. And I am going to.
  • Opposition to Military Adventurism: clearly the neoconservative program of nation-building has been a failure in any honest assessment. We were supposedly in Afghanistan to prevent the spread of radical terror groups; now we have radical terror groups in Iraq, Syria, Libya and sub-Saharan Africa. That worked well, didn’t it?

However, the author goes further.

Let’s be very blunt here: if you genuinely think things can go on with no fundamental change needed, then you have implicitly admitted that conservatism is wrong. Wrong philosophically, wrong on human nature, wrong on the nature of politics, and wrong in its policy prescriptions. Because, first, few of those prescriptions are in force today. Second, of the ones that are, the left is busy undoing them, often with conservative assistance. And, third, the whole trend of the West is ever-leftward, ever further away from what we all understand as conservatism.

If your answer— [Matthew] Continetti’s, [Ross] Douthat’s,  [Reihan] Salam’s, and so many others’—is for conservatism to keep doing what it’s been doing—another policy journal, another article about welfare reform, another half-day seminar on limited government, another tax credit proposal—even though we’ve been losing ground for at least a century, then you’ve implicitly accepted that your supposed political philosophy doesn’t matter and that civilization will carry on just fine under leftist tenets. Indeed, that leftism is truer than conservatism and superior to it.
Ibid, italics in original.

This is a charge that we have to take seriously. Conservatism cannot keep on the genteel, self-satisfied path that it has been on. It has to, in the words of the article, “consider anything really different.” But Donald Trump is not just anything.

One of the Journal of American Greatness’s deeper arguments was that only in a corrupt republic, in corrupt times, could a Trump rise. It is therefore puzzling that those most horrified by Trump are the least willing to consider the possibility that the republic is dying. That possibility, apparently, seems to them so preposterous that no refutation is necessary.

The republic has been in trouble for at least 80 years, since FDR figured out how to implement an effective permanent vote-buying political establishment. You are not going to turn it around in one election, even if you find a Solon to run the country. Which I assure you Donald Trump is not.

Recall the earlier article by Markowicz.

It’s absurd to assume that any of this would stop or slow—would do anything other than massively intensify—in a Hillary administration. It’s even more ridiculous to expect that hitherto useless conservative opposition would suddenly become effective. For two generations at least, the Left has been calling everyone to their right Nazis. This trend has accelerated exponentially in the last few years, helped along by some on the Right who really do seem to merit—and even relish—the label. There is nothing the modern conservative fears more than being called “racist,” so alt-right pocket Nazis are manna from heaven for the Left. But also wholly unnecessary: sauce for the goose. The Left was calling us Nazis long before any pro-Trumpers tweeted Holocaust denial memes. And how does one deal with a Nazi—that is, with an enemy one is convinced intends your destruction? You don’t compromise with him or leave him alone. You crush him.

So it would seem the author wants us to become the extreme, ignorant yahoos the progressives have always claimed we are. But if we did so, would we not already be defeated?

Supporting Donald Trump to turn back progressivism is like using a flamethrower to get termites out of your house. Yes, you will get rid of the termites. You will also get rid of the house.

False Equivalence

Let me now return to the issue of an equivalence between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. No, there is none.

Hillary Clinton promises sunshine and kitten whiskers for everyone. Her behavior is self-seeking, but can be understood rationally. Her behavior is, within limits, predictable.

Every interaction is both an exchange of semantic information and a dance of social positioning, even those, as in science or academia, that strive to be purely the former.

To all appearances, Trump is engaged solely in the latter form of communication, and only in a narrow way: He treats all social interactions as zero-sum games establishing dominance and submission. In every interaction, someone is going to win and someone is going to lose, be with Trump or against him.
— David Roberts, “The Question of What Donald Trump “Really Believes” Has No Answer” (http://www.vox.com/2016/9/29/13086236/trump-beliefs-category-error), 29 Sept 2016.

Donald Trump says anything at any time. It is a semantic game to take an utterance of his and try to work backward to impute its purpose. Publius Decius Mus is fooling himself by thinking that Trump has any commitment to advance his or any other agenda other than Trump’s own self-aggrandizement. The entire concept of lying has no meaning for Trump. Reality is just a genre of television. Truth is whatever is convenient this minute.

If you want a businessman to vote for, Gary Johnson is a businessman. Trump is a real estate speculator, an economic rent-seeker and a reality TV star.

Nevertheless, it is damning with faint praise to say that Hillary Clinton is not as bad as Donald Trump. Even with no equivalence between the two, Clinton offers to take the country in a direction that I, for one, do not want to go. I don’t owe my vote to Trump to prevent the election of Clinton, but neither do I owe my vote to Clinton to prevent the election of Trump.

None of the Above

This election, for short-term purposes, is already down the drain. However, pursuant to the points made by Publius Decius Mus, the republic is in trouble and the country is going in the wrong direction. What makes it a wrong direction, rather than just a direction some of us dislike?

I maintain that, as the herald of this site asserts, ideas have consequences. My reading of history tells me that some choices lead to greatness and other choices lead to destruction. I have previously articulated how I know that a day of reckoning must come. The Trump candidacy is only the beginning of what we have to look forward to as the progressive fixation on negative-sum distribution plays itself out and the public square becomes increasingly nasty. It’s baked into the cake now. Decades in the making, it is too late for one enlightened chief executive to avoid, even if such were to be found.

I am most interested in the long game. Do we as conservatives want to alienate voters who we could reach and offer an alternative to progressive dependency, such as Hispanics, in the name of a misguided nativism? I think not. Do we want to risk the nation on Donald Trump, who provides no reason to expect any commitment to conservative principles or Constitutional process? I think not.

Someone on the Sunday shows observed that Donald Trump failed to make any mention in the first debate of the Supreme Court. There is a reason for this: He doesn’t care. He would blow off the court and Congress.

Donald Trump is a one-trick pony. All he knows how to do is negotiate. He negotiates things that should rightfully be non-negotiable, like his contractual commitments to his vendors. He would negotiate the American commitment to NATO and to South Korea. He negotiates what we as citizens have a right to know about the guiding principles of a presidential candidate. I see no evidence that, if elected, he would consider Constitutional law as non-negotiable.

As of this writing, several newspapers have endorsed Gary Johnson, most notably the Chicago Tribune and the Detroit News. The USA Today gave Trump an anti-endorsement, calling him “unfit for the presidency.”

The majority isn’t silent; the government is deaf.
— Unknown

Act well your part, there all honor lies.
— Alexander Pope

If you are repelled by the progressive agenda, this is not the time to cave in to fears and weakness by endorsing a candidate who seeks to exploit fears and weakness. We know that those who do not vote will be labeled as apathetic and cowardly; Gail Collins has already warned us of this. Find someone else with whom to make common cause and do so.

 

Written by srojak

October 2, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Life after the Republican Party

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The Republican Party was founded in 1854 after the Whig party had begun to disintegrate (Abraham Lincoln, to name one prominent example, had gone to the House in 1847 as “and old line Whig, a disciple of Henry Clay.”). It was a radical party with strength in the North among opponents of slavery. Republicans also opposed the American Party, more commonly known as the Know-Nothing party, whose members refused to discuss slavery and were strongly nativist and anti-immigrant.

My, it has been a long and torturous road. Now the Republicans have descended into Know-Nothingism, following behind a man who does not let lack of comprehension get in his way. How did this happen?

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich, obtained from rackjite.com.

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich, obtained from rackjite.com.

I certainly understand the dissatisfaction with the Republican establishment. Have the Republicans stood up and demanded that Congress do its job, making laws that we can follow? No. Have they curbed the compulsion to buy votes? No, they just have different favored groups. Any demonstrated interest in making K-12 education do more to prepare our kids to be effective citizens and self-reliant economic agents? None I can see.

For a long time, we have thought we were stuck with this. There is actually a body of political science theory, most notably Duverger’s Law, that predicts that a political system such as ours will only have two major parties. Other theoretical work explains why the two parties will converge on one another’s positions in general elections, until the difference between them is simply window dressing.

Nevertheless, we do not need Republicans to be pale imitations of Democrats. If we wanted people who would get into office and spend like Democrats, we could vote for actual Democrats and get the real thing.

We used to be confident that the Republicans believed in personal responsibility. Last January, Sarah Palin blamed President Obama for her son’s PTSD and domestic violence arrest. I am not making light of PTSD or minimizing the reality of the damage experienced by people who have served in combat. But this comment was laughable.

Welcome to Opposite Year. Last year we had a field of 16 Republican presidential hopefuls. Now, we’re hopeless. The really big chunk has floated to the top. This is not just a fluke — more like a flounder.

Yes, there has been much to be dissatisfied about with the Republican Party in the past 28 years. But this is like using a flamethrower to get the termites out of your house. Yes, it works, in that you won’t have any more termites. You also won’t have any more house.

We have a presumptive Republican nominee who doesn’t answer questions directly, who changes his position multiple times in the same week, and who seems to really only listen to himself. He has been allowed to get away with this for months. People make excuses for him.

Back in 2013, the Republican Party initiated a period of self-examination. Was it time to stop alienating major demographic segments, such as Latinos and women? What happened to that? Self-examination has given way to self-destruction.

I am not saying that the Trump campaign is doomed — after everything that has happened this year, I can’t say that. But his campaign has called the question: are you going to go along with this? I am not.

You can make the argument that the Republican elected officials, such as Paul Ryan, have to accept the decisions of their primary voters. They got their offices and their clout through the ballot access that the Republican party has provided. However, you can also argue that this is the Profiles in Courage moment when extraordinary action is called for.

Why are we confined to these two terrible options? This is America. If both choices stink, we reject them and go bigger. That’s what we do.
— Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb), quoted in Politico.

There is no such debate for the rest of us; we owe the Republican Party nothing. It is time to stand up and be counted. Include me out.

 

Written by srojak

June 16, 2016 at 8:20 pm